|Infant Jesus of Prague|
This past evening I made it to St. Mary's Catholic Church in Martins Ferry, OH for the fourth Monday of their nine week novena to the Infant Jesus of Prague. It's an hour drive one way so I do two hours of driving for one hour of prayer, but it is so very worth it. Since we had been away travelling I had missed the first three Mondays, but it's better to start late than to never start at all. The church was packed tonight compared to other times I have attended. My heart was overjoyed to see so many people praying together to honor the infancy of Jesus.
I was overwhelmed emotionally as I sat there. I realized that it was actually three years ago to the very week that I had sat in the cry room of the church to honor the birth of our precious Libby when my uterus had collapsed. It's been such a long road since then. I didn't make it back to the novena that summer nor the next as I dealt with all the pain and searched for a way to try to avoid the partial hysterectomy that I finally agreed to over a year later. Then last year I returned from my seventeen day road trip intending to make the pilgrimage only to have an attack of pain that led to the diagnosis of interstitial cystitis bladder disease, an autoimmune disorder. Let me just say that when this disease "flared up" in my body that I literally felt like I had been beaten up and didn't move off the couch for three days. Thankfully the surgeon who performed my partial floor reconstruction and partial hysterectomy also specializes in this type of disease. I did eight weeks of "bladder rescues" where he poured a solution inside my bladder that helped ease the pain. There is a medication that I can take that costs over $400 a month. At this time though I have been controlling the symptoms herbally, because it's $400 for one medication! I have only had one other flare up in a year-it felt like I was trying to pass a kidney stone. The key to controlling the disease so far has been to make sure that during times of stress that I drink the herbal drink and to try to find a way to relax.
As I sat in the church I was also able to rattle off a list of a bunch of other June/July events stretching back over the past six years that had really shaken our lives at times......but I also realized how God had faithfully navigated us through each twist and turn.....and how both Jason and I had remained faithful to Him. Here I was sitting in the Church where I had received my "Job moment" literally three years later still singing God's praises. Here I was six years literally to the day when my marriage had begun it's "for worse time"-when I hadn't been sure that just two years into our marriage we could survive what we ended up surviving.....and yet we thankfully remain married through the grace of God, and our marriage is stronger than if we hadn't weathered that "for worse" storm. I sat in a Catholic Church praying for many friends and family members, but especially one who is sick and may die. And once again I was struck that this is the legacy I want to leave my children:
That when times get hard we get on our knees.....we work hard-as if everything depends on us, but we pray harder since everything depends on God. Have Jason's and my money problems improved since we started our devotion to the Infant Jesus?? Not in the worldly sense-we have many months where we aren't sure at all how we are going to pay the bills, but we have never gone hungry yet, and from month to month things have worked out even when we couldn't really explain to anyone else how it all worked out. In fact, since our country is still very much in a recession that is actually probably more of a depression, I know that we are poorer.....gas costs more, milk costs more....life just costs way more....and our pay checks are actually smaller because our taxes are more.....we're just like everyone else trying to make a living....
But I can thankfully say my faith is stronger than it was six years or even three years ago.....and my health has definitely improved even with the autoimmune disease diagnosis......and so I pray that if I were to die tomorrow that my children would cling to the Catholic faith that both Chris, Jason and I have given them. That they would remember that I always found my peace in the Church, whether it was from making an annual novena pilgrimage or my weekly adoration hour or dragging my tired self (and theirs!) to Church each Sunday whether I felt like it or not.....because honestly, I have never regretted time that I have spent praying and singing in Church.
When times get tough may my kids always look at a crucifix and realize that it contains the arms of true love. That true love dies to oneself and puts another's needs before it's own. That true love requires pain and sacrifice, and that even God himself ran to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane to get through his own dark night of the soul. That the King of all of creation humbled himself to become a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes (which were RAGS) and laid in an animal manger......that God become humble and completely dependent on Mary and Joseph to take care of all his needs....that he once had to learn how to crawl and walk and run.......and that he laughed and cried.......may they always honor the baby King that would one day give his life on a cross.
May my children remain always faithful, through good times and bad, through rich times and poor times, in sickness and in health.....May they Love God all the days of their lives.....
and May you know the Sweetness of that Faithful faith too,
Novena Prayer of Thanksgiving for Graces Received from the Infant Jesus
I prostrate myself before Your holy image, O most gracious Infant Jesus,
to offer You my most fervent thanks for the blessings You have bestowed on me.
I shall incessantly praise Your ineffable mercy and confess
that You alone are my God, my helper and my protector.
Henceforth my entire confidence shall be placed in You!
Everywhere I will proclaim aloud Your mercy and generosity,
so that Your great love and the great deeds which You
perform through this miraculous image may be acknowledged by all.
May devotion to Your holy infancy increase more and more in the hearts of all Christians,
and may all who experience Your assistance persevere with me
in showing unceasing gratitude to Your most holy infancy,
to which be praise and glory forever.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Sunday, June 8, 2014
Kitchen Remodel #3
|Homemade Curtains with lace tie backs|
So far 2014 has continued the trend of being one set back after another which has seemed to be the pattern for our lives these past few years.
I'm all for trying to live as frugally as possible, but for this month I have to admit that I've been continually resisting the urge to shop. In fact the weekend that Debbie completed these projects for me I didn't want to go to work, I didn't want to pay the bills and I most certainly wanted to "blow some steam" by thrift store shopping.....Instead I went to work, I paid the bills and I bought some food treats and came home to my sweet girls and mother-in-law.
A few weeks ago Jason and Joey went on a camping trip for Boy Scouts. It was a rare occurrence that Debbie, my mother-in-law, had both that Friday and Saturday off from her job. She suggested a "girls sleep over" weekend after a field trip day that I had originally planned got postponed for a week. She also brought up the idea of completing the curtains and bench make-overs that I had been talking about completing for almost two years now. I actually have had the bench fabric for two plus years and the curtain fabric for almost a year. (Yes, my mother-in-law lives directly across the road from me, and yes, she did sleepover in the guest room. I will admit it seems kind of funny, but remember the guys were also gone for the weekend. She finished the curtains at midnight so she just walked upstairs to sleep versus across the country road. Plus I had to leave early for work the next morning.)
Last summer I "kidnapped" Debbie for a day as her birthday present. We went thrift store shopping in Amish country, which is just an hour's drive away from where we live. One of the great things about Amish country is that at certain stores you can find amazing fabric that has been donated since most of the people still sew in that area. I found these two pieces of fabric at one of the stores for at total of $4. Jason had just "flipped" the kitchen and painted the cabinets blue so I thought this would be pretty fabric for the door in between the sink counter and baking counter:
The daisies are just beautiful and lend a soft romantic look to the "Tuscany Country" look that I am hoping we will eventually achieve in here when we can paint the wall panelling. (Though I have to admit it may end up looking more "French Country"):
I had been brainstorming about what kind of curtain to hang in front of the tupperware cabinet. I wanted something waterproof with blue tones to match the cabinets, yet something to somewhat match the door curtain. I hadn't found anything since last July that I liked. One day when I was putting linens away I saw this vinyl tablecloth leftover from a previous summer and thought it had great potential, so I will now have daisies and sunflowers to use as accents for my kitchen:
The three curtain fabrics together
I had bought two curtain rods to hang the curtains on back in January from Wal-Mart. They cost somewhere between $10-$12 total. Debbie and I talked and decided that I had enough fabric for a valance. Thankfully Debbie had an extra curtain rod for the valance at home for the great price of "FREE." She also suggested tie backs and brought over some gorgeous lace that she had bought at a garage sale for fifty cents.
Debbie is a craft queen....she made these curtains without a pattern....just measured the spaces, measured the fabric....had to do some creative thinking for the daisy material to figure out how to lay the fabric so that we could get two curtains and a valance out of it...but in less than four hours on Friday the tupperware cabinet and my kitchen window had new curtains!!! (Debbie did say that the vinyl tablecloth was not the easiest material to sew-it stretched while she was sewing it.) I personally break into a sweat just threading the needle on my sewing machine. These projects probably would have taken me two to three times the amount of time it took Debbie. I also would have had to buy a pattern to make the door curtains.
This is the fabric that I was able to buy at Joann Fabrics two years ago when it was on sale and I had a coupon. I don't remember how much the material cost, but we do have enough material that we will be able to cover any kitchen chairs we choose to match:
|Red vinyl material|
It's durable and waterproof! Jason's mom had a 50% off coupon for Joann Fabrics so she measured the bench Friday morning and then managed to find a 2" thick by 24" wide piece of foam that we were able to cut in two to fit the 12" wide bench so that it would have new padding...so we got $36 worth of foam for $18. Debbie glued the pieces onto the bench besides gluing them together so that they wouldn't separate over time. (A few days after Joey came home from camping he thanked me for putting new foam on the bench. I guess it had been getting painful to sit on though neither he, Jessie or Katie had complained yet at any of our family meals.)
|Bench with new foam with the new sunflower curtain behind it|
Debbie covered the bench while I was at work on Saturday. Katie, Anna and Libby (affectionately known as "The 3 Littles" around here) were quite concerned about this project. I guess they kept asking Grandma Debbie if I KNEW what she was doing to our kitchen bench???? They informed her that they were going to tell me right away when I got home. They also watched her like little hawks. Here was a picture that she sent me (ignore the messy kitchen please):
|Katie and Anna watching Grandma Debbie's every move with their stuffed "Eddie" poodle which is named after Grandma Debbie's real live Eddie poodle|
She even said that they were quite distraught that she was throwing out the old fabric and foam from the bench, so I guess they are picking up on thrifty habits of saving/reusing as much as possible. After a few hours, since Debbie did have to make one trip into town to get different staples for the staple gun, here was the finished bench (again, ignore the messy kitchen):
After I made it home much later than planned, we watched a movie while eating some splurged for cheese cake and frozen mini-eclairs that I had bought for the girls night sleep over:)
Curtain Project Costs:
Amish Country Curtain Fabrics: $1.25 and $2.75=$4.00
2 Curtain Rods: $12.00 (high end estimate-also one curtain rod was free)
Table Cloth Curtain: $8.99 originally (used for one picnic and then stored)*
*Still have 3/4 of it left for future projects
Lace Tie Backs: $0.50
Curtains Final Cost: $25.49
Bench Project Costs:
(bought it at a thrift store)
Foam Padding: $18.00
(**estimated price for just the material that covered the bench, have tons leftover)
Bench Final Cost: $48.00 approximately
Kitchen Remodel Costs to Date:
New Total with Curtains and Bench: $1616.47
Jason is planning on working more on the kitchen while the kids and I go on our annual summer trip to visit family....I am looking forward to being able to show you more kitchen pictures in July or August.
Here are the first two posts that I made about our Kitchen Remodel:
Kitchen Remodel #2
|Libby laying on the newly covered bench|
Wishing you the sweetness of perseverance and patience,
Show and Tell Friday at My Romantic Home
Wow Us Wednesday at Savvy Southern Style
Home Sweet Home at The Charm of Home
Feathered Nest Friday at French Country Cottage
Show and Tell Friday at My Romantic Home
Wow Us Wednesday at Savvy Southern Style
Home Sweet Home at The Charm of Home
Feathered Nest Friday at French Country Cottage
Sunday, May 18, 2014
I just watched the movie Charlie St. Cloud starring Zac Efron, and while I don’t think either Jessie or my mother-in-law Debbie appreciated it as much as I did, it was good for my soul….a “God Wink” as Debbie calls them.
On May 24th I will have lived in this area of Ohio for ten years and by the last weekend of this coming August I will have known Jason for ten years……Chris and I were only together through dating, engagement, and marriage for nine and a half years…..it was a sobering realization to realize that not only has he been gone for twelve years, but very shortly my life will be made up of more “Jason years” than “Chris years”…..but that is as God has chosen it for when the good die young those who have been left behind must plod along until God calls us to our own heavenly reward…..
The Charlie St. Cloud movie brought back my own memories of the way I felt Chris with me as soon as he died. I realized that while many of my older friends know the stories from the first few years after Chris died that now my own children do not-if they remember hearing them when they were little they have forgotten them to the back of their subconscious….so for my yearly tribute to Lt. Christopher T. Starkweather I now record them here on my blog:
Looking back at my life I can truly see how God was preparing me for Chris’ death, and how Chris prepared things as well. For instance: Chris died in his mid-twenties….he had THREE life insurance policies. Even though he was in the military and transitioning into a more dangerous role of flying in an airplane each day, I can assure you that most young naval flight officers have one life insurance policy, not three. In fact when he took out the third life insurance policy we had a strong discussion about whether he should get an extra policy taken out on me instead….not to mention that I wanted a king size bed and/or double stroller for walking the babies……those life insurance policies helped me buy a king size bed two months after Chris’ death when friends finally convinced me to stop sleeping on the floor with Joey and Jessie. (I couldn’t emotionally sleep on our bed without him.) I also got a double stroller.
May 8th, 2002 started out just like an ordinary day. I had been up late the night before with my late owl baby, Jessie, so Chris got up with the always early bird Joey and actually went grocery shopping, providing Joey with food in those days after the plane collision. I woke up to the sound of them giggling on the couch after their return. I then played a “knocking game” with them on the wall since our bedroom wall was also the wall for the living room. I would tap, then they would tap, and eventually I “tapped” a song rhythm which made them both laugh really hard. I heard Chris say to Joey, “Your mommy is SO funny.” (I still cry when I think of this moment because I can still hear the amazing laugh that Chris had and the love in his voice as he said that to Joey.) I then got up and started the day.
The flight on that day was really important to Chris. They were reflying a pattern that he had not scored well on the first time. He was worried about passing-he was worried that he would be cut from the flight program. For that reason, and because I was an anxious wife with two young toddlers, I asked him what time he was scheduled to fly at and about how long it would be until he landed, debriefed, etc. (We actually only had one cell phone, which we had just gotten the month before, and this was in the days before texting, so trying to get an estimated time of when he would return was my mission every day.) Chris kissed me in the rocking chair while I was nursing Jessie, said good-bye to Joey, but then stopped suddenly at the front door. He turned around and looked so intently at the three of us-he just stood there really, really looking at us-like he was “soaking us into his heart.” He then said, “I love you” one more time and walked out the door to go to work-to complete his mission for that day.
What I have never told anyone before though is that “his good-bye” struck my heart…I stopped nursing Jessie, carried her in my arms and followed him out the door, so I actually tried to make him laugh again as he got into his black Dodge Stratus. I said some corny “yank and bank/good luck” thing…..and I actually watched him drive away…..which is why I didn’t bring his car home for five months. That stupid car coming home without him meant he was truly gone….the squadron asked me to bring it home a few weeks later and thankfully one of Chris’ squadron buddies kept it at his place until he had to move away…..that stupid wonderful black Dodge Stratus….the one he bought after he was commissioned-just a month before we decided to elope-the one he refused to refinance-whose “$329 monthly car payment to have it paid off in three years” became my first reality check of frugal living within a marriage…..he drove away in it and I never saw him again.
Yet, when it came home, Chris was there. When I finally did sit in the driver’s seat I looked down and in between the seat buckle and the middle console was “The Golden Book of Prayer”….. I began sobbing and pulled out the prayer book. You see, back when we were stationed at STRATCOM, in Bellevue, NE, I would occasionally pray on Saturday mornings with Joey in front of the abortion clinic, and that was the prayer book they used. Chris always went running on Saturday mornings and one Saturday in February it was truly bitter cold. Chris informed me that I wasn’t going to go pray with Joey, but that he was going to go running….I informed him that if it wasn’t too cold to go running it wasn’t too cold to pray in front of the abortion clinic. (See my running jealousy coming out?) Chris then informed me that he would go pray instead of running….That Saturday was the only Saturday he ever did that. Later that afternoon he told me that at the end of the prayers an older lady came up and asked him what his name was. He said, “Chris Starkweather.” She started to ask, “Are you related to…..” when Chris cut her off, “NO, I am NOT related to Charles Starkweather the infamous mass murderer.” (You see whenever there seems to be a murder that involves more than one person in the Omaha, NE area every news story always seems to connect Charles Starkweather to the current murder. I think they use it as standard column inch filler for murder stories. Chris would randomly find news clippings taped to his computers or left on his desk by other military co-workers.) Chris was one of the politest people I ever met, but I guess he really went off on her about the Charles Starkweather connection. The lady politely listened to his vent and after he was finished, replied, “I was going to ask you if you are related to Stephanie Starkweather?” To which Chris hung his head and said, “Yes, she’s my wife.” Flash forward seven months later and 9-11 happened. It would take several hours to be able to get on base after those attacks. After a couple of days Chris asked me where that specific prayer book was. He said that he was tired of listening to the radio while he waited in the long inspection lines….so he began praying those prayers instead. When he died that following May there really weren’t long inspection lines anymore at the military gates….but he still had that prayer book tucked in by his seat belt. I have now since passed the prayer book on to one of Chris’ relatives who I felt he might like to have it…..but at that moment, when I was still struggling with my new role as a single mother, I was once again struck by the depth of my late husband’s faith….how many of us actually spent those long hours waiting to get on the military base PRAYING for others??? I certainly never did.
At around 2:30 on the afternoon of May 8th, I laid down to nurse Jessie to sleep (Joey took his nap as well.) I dozed off, but I woke up the most AMAZING warm session-it started at my head and then went down through my entire body…I can’t describe it except that it was the most peaceful sensation I ever felt in my life. I just laid there, not wanting it to end, but then Joey rolled over and hit my arm and I was so saddened because the sensation was gone. I rolled over and the alarm clock said, “3:30,” which is approximately when the planes collided and Chris died. About an hour later I went to turn on the tv to start a video for Joey so I could cook supper….the tv came on with “Breaking news: Two Navy planes have crashed off of Pensacola at approximately 3:30 pm today”…..and I knew….deep down I knew my husband was dead. I knew that the warm sensation I felt pulsing through my body was Chris saying good-bye to me.
I called the squadron, identified myself as Lt. Christopher Starkweather’s wife and told them I wanted to know when my husband’s plane landed. I heard the poor flight student forget to put me on hold and say to the officer standing next to him, “It’s Lt. Starkweather’s wife, what do I say?”…..And I knew…..I called the only other military student wife I knew and asked her and her husband to come to my house…..and God bless them, they did. They all knew Chris was dead, but they came and didn’t say a word since the military officials hadn’t showed up to tell me…..I called Chris’ mom to tell her that there had been a plane crash-she later said that I was so calm when I was telling her that I didn’t know if it was Chris or not…..at approximately 6:30 pm I asked two of the flight students to take me to the squadron so that I could get answers. We passed two military officials and a military wife in a car on the street, so we turned around and came back to the house. They informed me that a “mishap” had occurred and that the Navy was currently performing “search and rescue…” so even though I knew that those stupid T-39 Sabreliners didn’t have ejection seats….really who trains flight students without ejection seats…..I began to have hope, maybe Chris was alive….maybe they would find him clinging to part of the airplane….but still deep down, I knew……Chris was gone and my life would never be the same. (It took the military so long to get to my house because they were trying to find a Catholic chaplain to help break the news. Chris had asked for that on some paperwork. I now tell military wives not to click that box. If something happens you just want to know as soon as possible.)
May 8th was a Wednesday……flash forward to Saturday afternoon….Jessie was sleeping and I had the baby monitor on to hear her when she woke up….several people were at our house and the baby monitor began to make a low squawking sound that it had never made before that day or ever since that day. After a few minutes one of the flight students asked why it was making that sound, to which I again calmly reply, “It’s Chris talking to Jessie.” I now fondly remember how he looked at this “crazy woman” telling him that…I say fondly because he’s the ONE flight student who has kept contact with me for these twelve years….he began trying to figure out what was “interfering” with the baby monitor-maybe someone was flying a remote control airplane outside, etc., etc., but approximately twenty minutes later the low squawking noise stopped and Jessie woke up crying……at the time I believe that knowledge came from God-I had such peace about that event.
About two weeks later, after having survived the three memorial services for Chris, I was crying one afternoon when Joey-who wasn’t even two yet-came up to me and said, “Dada in bathroom.” He then pulled me down the hall to the bathroom and pointed inside saying, “Dada.” I stood there for several minutes, not actually sure what to do. I couldn’t ask Joey to ask Chris any questions-he was a little too young for that…..so I just stood there and eventually said, “I love you Chris” before walking away….but I know that event brought me some comfort for the day. Flash forward about three weeks later. We were at a beach with another family when I see and hear Joey start jumping up and down, saying “Daddy, daddy, daddy!” I watch him standing on the beach looking down as if Chris were crouched in front of him talking to him the way Chris would always get down on the ground at his eye level. There wasn’t any person in front of Joey-no man or anything….just sand directly where Joey was looking. The male friend we were with was convinced that Joey saw someone who looked like Chris, but I knew he was seeing Chris, because it was the exact position that I had seen Chris talk to him a million times….in fact it was the position that I had seen them crouched a few weeks before Chris died when I had actually had a premonition that Chris would die and I had asked God, “How will I survive without him?” But I had “shrugged off” the premonition convincing myself that if it did happen it would be when he was deployed-NOT when he was training at a squadron that had just celebrated 25 years without a single plane accident.
About one month later I was in crisis mode again…..the church we attended did not have a cry room and it was a struggle to take both babies to church by myself…I cried…they cried….we were a mess at every mass. I was once again crying in church, praying about what to do…should I stay at that church, should I come without my children since people had offered to watch the babies so I could come by myself, should I go to a different church that did have a cry room….at the moment of consecration, Joey grabbed my hand, pointed at the altar and said, “Daddy!” I asked him, “What did you say?” He said, “Daddy is kneeling up there!” and he pointed at the altar in front of the priest. “Daddy is kneeling up there!”….oh, to have the faith and eyes of a child-to be able to see the veil between heaven and earth opened…to see that truly during the mass heaven and earth are joined as we worship God in heaven….that the saints in heaven are worshipping as we are worshipping our God! Oh, how sweet an answered prayer can be!
That answered prayer gave me strength, especially when several times after that people would offer to “watch the kids at home” for me so I could go to mass alone….eventually after I had replied, “No, they will come because Joey has seen his father kneeling on the altar during consecration” we were adopted by a family who tried their best to help me…but of course Joey and Jessie both just wanted to be held by mommy.
Now we flash forward approximately 16 months later….outside of several “our songs” coming on the car radio when I would be praying about one crisis or another nothing else unusual has happened supernaturally. I am driving home from working in Tallahassee for the day and I am a wreck….I have only a few months to decide to move somewhere….Normally a military widow has to move within a year of her husband’s death in order for the military to pay for it. (It’s only six months if you are “fortunate” enough to live in military housing…..or if you were the wife of the Saudi Arabian military officer that died in the same plane collision with my husband it was less than one week. I still can’t believe that they moved her and her five children back to Saudi Arabia to her father’s house in less than one week. Yep, just one more reason I am glad to be American.) I had applied and been granted an extension to my military move-I now have to move by the second anniversary of Chris’ death….I had thought I was going to move to one place, but that had fallen through……and I began to realize that I don’t know WHO on earth I am…..who actually is Stephanie Starkweather without Chris Starkweather? I can’t breathe when I am in Pensacola-the sound of every Navy jet, especially those Blue Angels whose flight paths went over our rental house every day pierce my heart…..I have already painfully decided that I can’t go home to Fort Atkinson…..that I couldn’t live in our wonderful home town where we had first fallen in love….So, where does one go if you can’t go home to your family?....Where do you attempt to go find yourself when you are a single mom with two children? How do I begin to attempt to start providing for the kids? Do I try to find another theater administration job? But then what kind of life is that for my kids? I couldn’t be a “soccer mom” then-people go to the theater on weekends and evenings….do I go back to school like everyone has been encouraging me to do? What do I go to school for? All these questions are pushing through my brain as I try to calmly drive the three hours home to Pensacola…..Joey, now 3 ½ says, “Mommy, daddy is here in the van with us.”……and I start to cry…… “Mommy, daddy is here in the van with us.”….. “Where is he Joey?” “He’s here, next to my car seat.” I don’t ask any more questions….apply to grad school for my masters it is then……And I once again thank Chris and tell him I love him.
So, you would think that I would have it under control right? With all these signs of God’s providence and Chris’ intercession in our life? No, I don’t….I still continue to have crisis after crisis. Flash forward to the month before I am to leave Pensacola for the oasis of Steubenville, Ohio and I am in crisis mode again. I have now returned from a massive ten day road trip with my Pensacola best friend….her, me, a rental van, her two kids plus my two kids and one teenage sister-in-law road trip to Steubenville and back….I am now in the process of closing on a house that I bought while in Steubenville for less than three days and I am FREAKING out…..the reality of what I am about to take on is hitting me because Joey and Jessie are both sick, which means they can’t go to the military in home day care provider I have….what will happen when they get sick and I am in grad school? Why am I moving to a place where the only people I sort of know is my realtor and the famous Kimberly and Scott Hahn, who recommended the realtor to me, but with whom I only talked to for less than ten minutes at an event? Why am I feeling like God is calling me to study theology? Why study theology in Ohio instead of in Wisconsin at Marquette? How am I going to pass grad school for a field that I never studied in undergrad as a single mom with two kids?
Joey and Jessie were finally well enough to go to the day care and I head to mass. I go to a church that I had never attended before in Pensacola. After mass I pull out a St. Padre Pio rosary to pray with….as I grab it out of my purse I think to myself that I should get rid of this rosary because it was given to me by someone who had just hurt me very badly and whenever I grab the rosary I think about them and I feel the pain all over again….I begin to cry though about all those questions listed above that I am stressing over….I also once again pray that God will give me a sign when Chris is no longer in purgatory. (I will not defend nor explain the Catholic Church’s teachings on purgatory. Go to one of the Catholic apologetic blogs to find out more. I am simply telling my story and this prayer is a big part of it.) I had prayed that prayer about wanting a sign almost daily since Chris had died. I notice a woman who keeps looking over at me, but I figure that’s because I am crying. As I later began to leave the church this woman comes running back through the doors and says, “Oh thank God you are still here!”
She then tells me that she has a message from me from St. Padre Pio. She begins looking over my should as if St. Padre Pio (and Chris) were standing behind me….she says, “Do you know someone who died that was in the military?” I say, “Yes, my husband was in the Navy and he died.” She looks back over my shoulder and says, “Father wants you to know that he is holding your husband’s hand.” (She called “Padre Pio” father because he was a priest-that was his title.) She tells me some other things-mostly that everything is going to be okay-I think my brain mostly turned off once I realized that she was telling me that Chris was in heaven, that he was no longer in purgatory.
I am overjoyed, but most family members (and probably my friends) just think I am plain crazy….most likely because they don’t believe in purgatory. A few weeks later I go to start packing up the most important stuff I own-all of our pictures that I am going to take in our van and not let the movers touch…..I go to the top drawer of Chris’ dresser…The drawer that I had placed the memorial flag in that was given to me at the huge memorial service that thousands of people had attended in Pensacola…..the drawer that I had occasionally opened, but never emptied or touched since May 15th, 2002….I lift the folded flag out of the drawer and underneath it is a St. Padre Pio prayer card!....at that moment I see myself almost two years earlier opening that drawer, moving Chris’ stuff out of the way and briefly see the prayer card, but I just shove that flag into the drawer….that flag where they say, “On behalf of a grateful nation”…that flag that means the end of my husband and his military career dream that we had shared, suffered and worked for……under that painful patriotic flag is a prayer card for a saint that I didn’t know Chris had a devotion/relationship with….you see, unlike most Catholics, Chris didn’t have a lot of religious objects. He had one bible, one crucifix and one rosary. He didn’t own a catechism until the year I came into the church, and that “Golden Book of Prayers” was the only book of prayers we owned until after he died…..he was a minimalist Catholic, but his faith was strong and deep....in fact that St. Padre Pio prayer card was the only one I found among his things….so someone I met after Chris died gave me a rosary that had a saint medal on it for the one saint that Chris had a devotion to….and that is the saint who sends me a message via a woman I had never seen at mass before nor ever saw again…..
Oh, how I wish that I could tell you that I am one of those “blessed” spiritual children of Padre Pio, the ones who say that they smell the scent of flowers after asking for his prayers in heaven….that I have never experienced….and I have never had anyone else ever come to tell me a message directly while seeing Padre Pio again….but I do have my Katie, who was finally conceived after a friend, who did not know the above story, give me her prescious Padre Pio medal to pin under my bed pillow-she reminded me to ask for Padre Pio to pray to God that Jason and I would finally conceive a baby after sixteen months of negative pregnancy results….and we conceived Katie that same month!
The last thing that I can tell you is that in special blessed moments though, I can feel my late hubby with me. I was terrified that I would lose that when I left Pensacola….because I could still “feel” Chris presence in that rental home. I had actually offered to buy the house twice, but was denied both times, even after I said they could name their price…..When I was having a panic attack about leaving the house, my “Pensacola best friend” asked me, “Steph, where do you feel Chris in this house?” Now, Colleen had NEVER met my hubby, we met after his death. “I feel him when I sit in the rocking chair where he said, ‘Good-bye’ and I feel him when I look out our kitchen window to where he would crouch down and talk to Joey while he played with him in the back yard. I feel him when I step over the baby gate in our house.” Colleen begins to tear up and she says, “I didn’t know Chris, but those are the places that I feel him as well. I have felt him when I have babysat your kids and I don’t believe that you are going to lose that when you move.”…..and she was right. I can still feel him at times when I sit in the blue rocking chair he bought when he found out I was pregnant with Joey…..and I can feel him/see him crouched down looking at the kids sometimes….and Joey and Jessie both have contagious laughs like Chris did…..I feel my hubby all around my kids.
And so for all these reasons it’s okay that May 8th means more to me than it does to my children…..it means that I have made the goal I set for myself after Chris died…..that I did not want my kids walking around with a chip on their shoulder because their dad died…..that it would be an event in their life, but not THE event that shaped what their lives became…so it’s okay that whenever I say, “Tomorrow is May 8th” and the kids start naming off one of the five extended family member’s May birthdays or Jason says, “Oh, it’s this or that feast day?”….it’s okay…and I just look at them intently and say, “It’s May 8th” and they all then go, “Oh, it’s Chris day.”….it’s okay…..I did my job just fine….the fact that they don’t make a fuss about having to attend daily mass that day where I will cry or that I need some “quiet time” like playing at a park amidst all the end of the year activities is okay….the fact that the littles are starting to try to understand that Joey and Jessie had a different daddy in heaven is okay…..hopefully the long term impression will be made on all the kids though that they will try to remember the day I die…but it’s okay if they don’t, because I know that life doesn’t end when we die…I’ll be there helping to guide them towards heaven…..reaching out through whichever song they connect with me on the radio or whatever mystical ways God decides to use…..
May you all feel the sweetness of God’s peace in your life,
Saturday, April 26, 2014
A Byzantine Easter
|Empty Tomb at St. Mary's Byzantine Church, Weirton, WV|
Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!
Christos Voskrese! Voistinu Voskrese!
Christos Voskrese! Voistinu Voskrese!
or in other words:
So, what makes "Easter" a "Byzantine Easter" versus say a "Roman Catholic Easter" or secular Easter activities?? Lots of fasting, liturgical prayer and a few other activities that I will try to do a better job at describing here on the blog.
Many people are familiar with Roman Catholics fasting from meat on Fridays during Lent. Byzantine Catholics fast from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent, and even more traditional Byzantines still fast from meat the first day of Lent (which starts on the Monday before Ash Wednesday) until Easter Sunday. (Some even fast from meat AND dairy during that whole time. We're not that hard core yet....) But during Holy Week the normal fasting days are as follows: Wednesday: no meat, Friday: no meat or dairy, Saturday: no meat until after the end of Saturday vigil liturgy.
Our "Holy Week" is actually a whole week as well. The week starts out with Palm Sunday, then on Wednesday our church has Pre-Sanctified Gifts Liturgy (which we had every Wednesday during Lent. I have decided that the Pre-Sanctified Gifts Liturgy is my favorite Liturgy: singing all the Psalms for an hour is so beautiful.) This year we missed the actual Wednesday liturgy because we were invited to a Last Supper/Passover Seder event, which was the first time I had ever attended a Seder. It was beautiful to hear all the prayers and to experience part of what Jesus experienced at his last supper. (We fasted from meat on the Monday instead of the Wednesday. which we had received a dispensation for during Lent.) Then there is liturgy on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday, followed by church services on Holy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Also the week after Easter is considered a "no fasting, EAT MEAT every day week!" We were so busy that I actually struggled with pushing myself to indulge in meat this week instead of my normal "eat pasta/rice" routine.
Our priest has two parishes, so our Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday liturgies were at 8pm: a little late to be out with three littles under the age of 5. Since Jason had let me go to every Wednesday liturgy during Lent with just Joey and Jessie he went to the Holy Thursday Last Supper Liturgy with Jessie since Joey was sick. The littles and I stayed home and watched some youtube videos about Jesus listed on the Cherished Hearts at Home blog. Disclaimer: one of the videos is quite graphic and I had little ones crying, though they have definitely been contemplating how painful Jesus' death was for us. I truly should have watched the videos first like she advised.
Then I was going to go to a 3pm Roman Catholic Service on Good Friday with the littles, but Jason got stuck at work so we decided to just go together on both Good Friday and Holy Saturday and let the littles sleep in on Saturday. Both Good Friday and Holy Saturday liturgies have beautiful processions where the congregation follows the Priest around the church. At the end of the Good Friday liturgy the priest carries the icon of the dead body of Jesus from a table in front of the church with the altar boys carring replicas of a crown of thorns and the nails/hammer. The congregation follows carrying candles and chanting as we process out of the church and around the church and then back inside. Father then places the body inside the tomb and then as a congregation we go up and can say prayers and kiss the icon (much like the practice of venerating the crucifix/cross in Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches.)
Here is Jason talking to the littles in front of the tomb with the Jesus icon:
We then circle to the left and can venerate the Crucifixion icon next to our church's crucifix:
|Jason kneeling with Katie, Anna and Libby (Jessie is behind them in the dress coat) venerating the Jesus icon laying in the tomb on Good Friday.|
|Here you can see Jesus legs on the icon. Our Church icon has Mother Mary, St. John and some other people all around Jesus for his burial.|
We then circle to the left and can venerate the Crucifixion icon next to our church's crucifix:
|Crucifixion Icon with Byzantine Crucifix|
|Katie contemplating the icon|
On Holy Saturday we again process around the church and the priest does special prayers/knocking on the doors before we go into Church. We sing/say prayers for an hour until the liturgy is ended without receiving communion. We then go downstairs into our church hall for the blessing of the family Easter baskets so that our meatless fast can be broken. That's right, we start celebrating between 9pm-10pm at night with meat!
So in the above basket you can see our butter in the shape of the lamb, our salt shaker, our leg of lamb wrapped in plastic wrap, our lit blessed candle with Byzantine cross and Rosary hanging down. We also had a pascha and a small section of kolbassi in our basket. Our bottle of wine fell out of the basket and broke on our way into the church, so we brought back two bottles of wine to be blessed on Easter Sunday along with the childrens' Easter Baskets. A traditional Ruthenian Slovakian basket has the following items: Pascha (the Easter Bread, pronounced PA-SKA), ham, sausage (known as Kolbassi), bacon, cheese ball (known as hrudka), horseradish, butter, salt, pisanki eggs, and in some places a sweet wine. Our church family has added chocolates to the basket. All of these items have symbolism and were typically things that were fasted from during the Great Lent.
|Easter Basket with Candle lit, ready to be blessed by Father Ed.|
|Easter Basket Cover: Cross Stitched by Debbie|
Here is our basket covered by a cross stitch that Debbie made for us. Normally the Easter Basket covers are linen and say "Christ is Risen" with Byzantine crucifix, Easter eggs, etc, like you can see here. Debbie made our ours from memory about a year after she had attended a Holy Saturday church service with us.
|Close up of Easter Basket Cover while it's draped over our prayer kneeler at home.|
|Our second basket containing candy and our Pysanky eggs that Joey, Jessie and I had made at church after Wednesday Pre-Sanctified Liturgies during Lent|
About thirteen hours later we arrive back at church to find:
|Empty Tomb on Easter Sunday Morning!|
|The Empty Tomb is placed in front of the covered Crucifix for the rest of the Easter Season.|
We celebrate Christ Risen for the next few weeks!
Then afterwards its back home to have Easter Dinner and to have our family Easter egg hunt. Then church services on Monday-Wednesday if one can make it. So, while this may seem like a lot of "things to do" I find comfort every year in the routine of Holy Week, especially as we get used to the rhythm of being Byzantine converts. I was so proud of myself that I remembered to find my Easter containers in our storage shed on Holy Thursday so that on Good Friday I could make the lamb butter for Saturday's basket. We were out of eggs so we chose not to make a store run to make the hrudka. There have been years that we forgot to make the butter ahead of time and just stuck a stick of butter in our basket. This Holy Week was extra restful since we did not participate in any other activities just Church, house cleaning and Easter decorating from Thursday-Sunday. Other years I have tried to make more than one Church service, such as Stations of the Cross or Catechesis of the Good Shepherd morning meditations for the children. It ends up being so much driving back and forth since we live thirty-five minutes from town and forty-five minutes from St. Mary's.
|Picture of Eucharist at a local Eucharistic Chapel|
There is a quote posted at this Eucharistic Chapel that I have been meditating during my holy hour every Sunday:
The poster says:
"It is never true to say that we have no time to meditate; the less one thinks of God, the less time there will always be for God. The time we have for anything depends on how much we value it. Thinking determines the uses of time; time does not rule over thinking. The problem of spirituality is never, then a question of time; it is a problem of thought. For it does not require much time to make us saints; it requires only much love." Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen
The above quote is very true. We make the time to do the things that are important to us, no matter how many duties or commitments we may have.
|Happy Easter from Our Family to yours!!!|
Joey, Katie, Libby, Jessie and Anna
Wishing you the sweetness of a Blessed Easter Season this beautiful spring,
Friday, March 21, 2014
|Virtual St. Joseph Altar|
Holy St. Joseph, Spouse of Mary,
be mindful of me, pray for me, watch over me.
Guardian of the paradise of the new Adam,
provide for my temporal wants.
Faithful guardian of the most precious of all treasures,
I beseech thee to bring this matter to a happy end,
if it be for the glory of God,
and the good of my soul.
Note for all my Protestant friends: When Catholics pray to the Saints, they are asking them to intercede to God on their behalf. We believe that the Saints in Heaven spend their eternity praying for us still here on earth and glorifying God with praise.
|St. Joseph Altar Cake 2014|
For our second annual altar we ordered our cake ahead of time from Aubrey's Bakery. This picture of St. Joseph is laminated so we can reuse it for future altars. The cake was half chocolate and half white. I LOVE Aubrey's frosting because it's not too sweet or too thick. It's a very light whipped frosting.
This year we held our altar at our church, St. Mary's Byzantine in Weirton, WV. We still kept it friends only. When we looked “ahead” on the calendar and realized that we need to complete several projects during Memorial Day weekend we decided to invite all the young Byzantine families that we know, either from our church or some of the other close by churches. (Usually we have a picnic for all the young Byzantine families during Memorial Day weekend.) Unfortunately many of them already had plans so we still only fed 4 other families for a total of thirty-one on Sunday, March 16th. We held the altar early since the actual feast day is our busiest day of the school and work week. Jason kindly reminded me that last year we only fed twenty-two so that is a fifty percent increase when I was sad that the altar was so small.
Here is this year's altar in the church with partially eaten cake: (We had fed our church members cake after the morning's Divine Liturgy. I tried to be careful cutting around the picture and words so they were intact for the altar):
|2014 St. Joseph Altar at St. Mary's Byzantine Church, Weirton, WV|
Close Up of Statues and Candles:
|Holy Family Statue on Top Tier of Altar,|
Infant Jesus of Prague, St. Joseph Icon and Our Lady of Victory Statue on 2nd Tier
Stations of the Cross Icon on 1st Tier
Here you can see our loaves of Italian Bread and 2 of the salads that had been brought. We had one Greek one and one Artichoke:
Here you can see the beautiful table runner and our "bouquet" of fresh oregano, along with the Stations of the Cross Icon:
So, Jason and I had forgotten to downsize our cake order a few days before the event when we realized that we were going to have less than 50 people and we also forgot to defrost the turkey ahead of time. We cooked the turkey frozen according to these instructions, but it actually was ready five hours before the start of the party, so then we basted non-stop to try to keep it from drying out. We also forgot to call the person in charge of doughnuts to let them know that we were going to serve cake...so they gave us leftover doughnuts to put on the altar. The turkey was "falling off the bone" by being cooked frozen in the roasting pan with the lid on it-basically it acted as a slow cooker that kept all the moisture inside. We also had (store bought) pizzelles and home made anginettis (Italian lemon cookies with Easter colored frosting and sprinkles.):
In this last picture of the altar we have our bowl of blessed fava beans and fried bread crumbs out to put on the pasta. Another family arrived during the blessing of the altar and added a 3rd lettuce salad and bowl of fresh fruit:
We served wine, sparkling cider/juice and water for this year's drinks.
Here some of the children are watching Joey play a video game:
Here is Libby "cheesing" by the cake with one of her small stuffed puppy dogs before we served the church members cake:
I bought cheap play dough for the kids to play with. Here we see most of the older teens getting their play dough fix as well. Note for next year: either make home made play dough or buy the good stuff. This cheap play dough smelled REALLY bad:
Here Libby and Anna are being amused by one of their favorite teenage friends:
Every time we turned around Anna was "attached" to him in one way or another:
We also printed several sets of St. Joseph coloring pages. Here is Libby still having fun after being at church for almost five hours since Divine Liturgy was at 8:30am and the dinner started at 11am. (We were going into hour six by the time we got everything cleaned.):
Libby and Anna went around handing everyone their blessed fava beans before they left and we also gave out some St. Joseph prayer cards.
One of the families already notified us that the day after they completed their
Novena to St. Joseph the self-employed father got a new client. Talk about fast work St. Joseph!
Since we organized the St. Joseph Altar as a potluck and tried to use a Google on-line document for sign-ups we actually didn't have much for food leftovers-a small bag of pasta, salad and turkey is all we took home. There were very few cookies left, but we still had a lot of cake leftover. We have good friends that were not able to make it to the potluck because they were working at the
Friendship Room Warming Center. We were lucky to be able to donate the leftover cake for their use instead of having it go to waste. Please consider donating to them either via food or by monetary donations.
Check out our 1st St. Joseph Altar here!
Here is the link to our Infant Jesus of Prague Thanksgiving Post
As we are now about halfway through Lent I pray that each of you are "fighting the good fight" and pushing through to the end. Now is a good time to resolve to do better on whatever commitments and pledges you made for Lent. If you didn't make any then start now. Every day is a new day to grow in holiness and to live our lives for the glory of God the Father.
St. Joseph, pray for us!
I wish you the sweetness of perseverance in life,